Prosecutor Stephen Zappala in Pittsburgh has until June 1 to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Richard Poplawski, the man accused of killing three police officers. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that dueling online petitions have emerged in the public debate over what should happen to Poplawski, 22. As of Saturday, those asking the district attorney’s office to seek the death penalty numbered more than 35,000; those asking for life in prison: 12.
Even if Poplawski ends up being sentenced to death, he’s not likely to be executed for many years, if ever. That’s because the state, which hasn’t executed anyone since 1999, has what Gov. Ed Rendell has called a “de facto” moratorium on executions caused by endless appeals. Across the U.S., the average appeals process in capital cases is now 12.7 years, longer than it’s ever been. Pennsylvania has never executed anyone who had taken advantage of the full appeals process in both the state and federal court systems. The three prisoners executed here since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 all waived their appeal rights. Unless Poplawski does that, he will probably join the state’s 228 death row inmates in a permanent state of limbo. “This is not a problem that is slowly getting better,” said Richard Dieter, of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes executions. “I think it’s a given that there won’t be any quick resolution.”